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Southwest Links Labor Union Trouble to Unique Number of Interrupted Flights: NPR

Southwest Airlines flights are loaded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on February 5.

Ted S. Warren / AP

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Ted S. Warren / AP

Southwest Airlines flights are loaded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on February 5th.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Having drawn airplanes and canceling hundreds of flights, Southwest Airlines apologizes to travelers – and owes the association that represents flight maintenance technicians.

Last week, the Dallas-based airline took more than 40 out of about 750 aircraft out of service at four southwestern locations, spurring aircraft delays and cancellations. As a result, the company declared an operational emergency.

The unprecedented number of grounded planes followed a CBS survey that highlighted complaints from industrial mechanics who said they were being pushed to overlook possible security issues to put the planes back in service quickly.

A company memo for mechanics, obtained by CBS, showed a call for all hands on deck, and that maintenance staff could face "termination" for unused absence. It also gave the airline the opportunity to assign employees longer working hours and switching assignments.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said in a statement on Tuesday that all hands were meant to help the plane safely back into the fleet. He said the problems had arisen "despite no change in maintenance programs, no changes in leadership, and no changes to our policies and procedures."

Van de Ven attaches the chaos to the Air Mechanics Association, with which the carrier has been locked in negotiations on salaries and benefits for years. He said the union "has a history of work disorder", which results in two case management issues brought by the Southwest.

The Union's national director, Bret Oestreich, returned. "Southwest Airline is the culprit of its expert Aircraft Maintenance Technicians not good for the airline's safe operations," he said.

Oestreich claimed that the mechanic worked overtime, but that the airline has the least mechanics of the flight relationship between any major carrier.

He said the connection between operational emergency negotiations and the association's negotiations was an attempt to divert attention away from security issues.

He added that "now we are threatened with the further coercion of lawsuits."

In 2017, the case union sued to boycott overtime shifts. The lawsuits stated that a concerted refusal to accept overtime processes could lead to "delayed or delayed maintenance, extended use of third-party vendors, and potential delay or cancellation of flights."

This case was suspended in the middle of an early contractual agreement with the Union, but the proposed contract was later rejected by AMFA, Bloomberg reports.

Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, told the NPR that the audit is increasing as a "standard practice" while airlines are working through employment. "That is why the FAA has increased its record of southwest during this time."

FAA began investigating southwest in February 2018 for errors in calculating baggage weight and balance data. "The FAA will not close the survey until it is satisfied that Southwest's corrective actions are consistent and persistent," Lunsford said.

A seemingly unhappy Southwest customer went to Instagram this weekend, as delays and cancellations were about to be assembled. "This is ridiculous service and it will not be necessary for me to use this airline anymore," said the person. "At this point, horse and buggy would be faster."

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